17 hours ago
The New Zealand Warriors will face increased pressure to move their NRL matches around the country.
The franchise has been disappointed by home crowds at Auckland's Ericsson Stadium - prompting suggestions some matches should be played elsewhere. Now the call is set to become official.
The New Zealand Rugby League remains a 10% shareholder in the Warriors and the Wellington Rugby League intends asking it to persuade the club to play home games away from Auckland.
Wellington chairman Bernie Wood believes the Warriors need to rethink their marketing strategies and he believes playing matches in Wellington, New Plymouth, Palmerston North and Dunedin makes sense.
He also suggests too much of the Warriors' marketing is targeted at the converted rather than those who are not necessarily league fans.
"I think the Warriors need to have a meeting with their other partners (the club is owned by Eric Watson, a group of Wellington businessmen and the NZRL) to decide on a new strategy," he said.
"There is a golden opportunity - twice a year - to get crowds of 25,000 in Wellington and 19,000 to 20,000 in Palmerston North and New Plymouth. They are one-off situations and the crowds will come along.
"I am absolutely convinced it is the way to go."
The Warriors' home crowds have become a talking point of the season, with the turnouts failing to come anywhere close to matching the team's excellent onfield performances.
There was an improved turnout of 14,765 when the Warriors played Souths at Ericsson Stadium in round nine and the club, with rugby's Super 12 completed and the All Blacks' test programme yet to kick off, can expect a good crowd against the Sharks today.
Overall, the club's management is disappointed and puzzled over what the players need to do. The Canterbury Bulldogs have played one of their home games in Wellington for the last two seasons and they have drawn crowds of close to 25,000.
Wood argues the Warriors have a New Zealand tag in front of their name and they need to live up to this. He says the Warriors, if they get a home semifinal, which looks likely, should be thinking about taking it to the larger Eden Park.
A huge crowd would be expected for the club's first home semi.
NZRL president Selwyn Pearson said he would pass on any request from Wellington to the Warriors but he said the national body's shareholding is not big enough to influence where matches were played.
He also pointed out there are a number of obstacles in terms of moving from Ericsson, where corporates book out boxes for the season and expect a certain number of matches.
"There are some people who have bought boxes for nine years," he said. "They got 13 matches last year and this season they will get 12."
The Warriors' management is also extremely conscious of "looking after" the 9000 regulars who roll up to Ericsson for each home game.
Pearson said he believed the Warriors were trying to be "inclusive" in terms of the whole country but pointed out that when the Warriors took their pre-season game against the Sharks to Jade Stadium it "lost a lot of money".
"It was an abysmal crowd and it wasn't a strong message from people to say `come here and we will make sure you do all right'."
Pearson said he had spoken to the "experts in Wellington" and understood a four-game season ticket had been mooted.
The Bulldogs are committed to returning to the capital and two other NRL sides are interested in taking games there. The Warriors would make four. Pearson said he had been told that would "just about league us (Wellington) out".